Solar Energy Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Above your head, there's a single source of energy that is used by every person on the planet. It burns so brightly that you can't stare directly at it. I'm talking about the Sun and in this lesson, you'll learn how we use the Sun's energy.

What is Solar Energy?

Even though the Sun sets at night, it never stops shining; we only see it for part of the day because the Earth spins. As the Earth spins on its axis, the Sun shares its energy with the plants and animals all over the world.

Solar energy comes from the Sun

Solar energy which is what we call the energy from sunlight can be used to create electricity and make life more comfortable.

Passive Solar Heating

Homes and other building can be designed to take advantage of the Sun's energy with no need for mechanical devices. This direct use of the Sun's energy is referred to as passive solar.

A greenhouse uses passive solar energy

A good example of passive solar is a greenhouse, which uses energy from the Sun to provide year-round gardening. Sunlight enters the glass walls of the greenhouse and warms the plants and soil inside. At night, the heat that was absorbed by the plants and soil gets released, keeping the air temperature inside the greenhouse warmer than outside. Since getting too cold can kill plants, greenhouses use solar energy to keep them alive even when the outside temperatures drop.

Making Electricity

Solar cells, also called photovoltaic cells, are devices that change solar energy into electricity. These cells are often joined to form solar panels. Maybe you've seen solar panels sitting on the roof of a home or business. The panels look somewhat like dark glass windows.

Solar panels on a roof
solar panels

When the Sun's rays hit the solar panels, electrons inside the solar cells get excited. These excited electrons create a type of electrical current called a direct current, or DC. A converter changes the DC electricity into a more usable form called alternating current, or AC, which can be used in your home for everything from turning on the lights to recharging your cell phone.

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